Step 1: planning and analysis
The foundation of a good specification is in the planning and analyses which are undertaken before writing begins. Key people who can help such as purchasing staff, technical officers, project officers and managers and end users need to be involved. Planning and analysis will provide a better understanding of the requirement(s) and may reveal alternative solutions. Planning and analysis are particularly important when developing complex requirements. These may take some time to define, perhaps even years in the case of major equipment. The accuracy and detail of the definition is likely to improve as information is gathered and assimilated.
Define the requirement(s) and then approach industry to see what is available to meet the department’s/agency’s needs. If industry is approached too early in the development process, there is the risk of deciding the solution to the problem before the requirement(s) is fully defined. In some cases potential solutions may be discovered and explored which may allow refinement of needs. Think in terms of the performance required or the functions to be performed. In other cases, however, solutions may not be readily available or there could be the danger in stating a solution up front that may restrict offers of alternative solutions. In this situation, a full explanation of the issue or problem is needed.
Breaking down the requirement(s) in terms of function and performance will better define the need. Defining the requirement(s) in terms of the lowest level functions or sub components should also help to discover conflicts and inconsistencies within the requirement(s). Alternative solutions, too, may be revealed in the process. Value analysis could be used to highlight and explore possible solutions. It is a complex cost analysis technique that requires expertise for its successful use. In simple terms, value analysis
looks for the optimum way of using materials, designs, equipment etc. to meet a (functional) requirement while providing savings over the life of the equipment or at the initial purchase stage. The technique is particularly useful in identifying potential, innovative solutions.
Step 2: Consultations and information gathering
Developing specifications requires consultation and can be perceived as an evolutionary process involving close and continuous liaison between the end-user, technical officers, project officers/managers, purchasing officers and the specification writer. Valuable information and advice relating to the requirement can be obtained by discussing it with purchasing officers, technical officers and other users of similar goods or services within the department/agency. Purchasing officers should be involved from the start of the process (that is, the information gathering and design stages).
Other sources of information include:
• other departments or agencies (including Federal and Local Governments);
• industry – either industry associations or particular companies (ensure that industry does not assume pre-offer negotiations);
• educational institutions, for example, universities and TAFE Institutes;
• Industrial Supplies Office Ltd (ISO Queensland) which can assist in identifying and evaluating appropriate local industry capabilities; and
• other users of the goods or services.
These organizations may help to refine the requirement and also suggest potential solutions.
Step 3: writing specifications
• Use simple, clear language without jargon (to minimize misinterpretation).
• Define terms, symbols and acronyms (include a “Glossary of Terms”).
• Be concise.
• Do not explain the same requirement in more than one section.
• Define each aspect of the requirement in one or two paragraphs where possible.
• Adopt a user-friendly format.
• Number the sections and paragraphs.
• Seek feedback from someone unfamiliar with the requirement.
• Discuss the draft and refine it.
There are no fixed rules on formats and structures because each specification reflects a different requirement or need. A specification should list the functional, performance and technical characteristics separately. Refine the structure before writing by discussing with colleagues and purchasing officers. Include tables, sketches, diagrams, or statistical matter if these help to make the specification clearer. Be careful that these types of information do not limit the options for offerors to provide alternative solutions.
Step 4: Vetting specifications and obtaining approval
After writing the specification, ask a colleague who is unfamiliar with the requirement to critique it from a potential supplier’s view.
Try to identify improvements by considering:
• simplicity of meaning,
• clarity, and
Seek approval from the appropriate financial or purchasing delegates in the department/agency after vetting the specification but before issuing it.
Step 5: issuing the specifications
The specification should be included as part of the “Invitation to Offer” document. The “Invitation to Offer” should target suppliers that are capable of meeting the specification by direct approach (after market analysis) or through advertising in newspapers, websites and industry magazines, etc.
Step 6: managing amendments to the specifications
Should a need arise to amend the specification during the “Invitation to Offer” process, the amendment should be authorized by the project manager. The amended specification should be noted in the project files and all offerors or potential offerors must be given a reasonable opportunity to offer to the new specification.
Step 7: Revising and storing the specifications
The specification should be reviewed at the end of the purchasing activity to ensure that it effectively defined the goods or services that were actually bought. If areas for improvement are identified, revise the specification with the benefit of hindsight. When the review of the specification has been completed and if it relates to goods or services that are likely to be purchased frequently, keep it on file. Before each purchase, review the specification to ensure that it reflects your department’s/agency’s needs at that time. Alternatively,
institute a program to review specifications on a regular basis.
Selecting the Right Approach to Describing Requirements
Although the decision on what type of purchase description to use may appear to be simple, many factors complicate the issue. For small, noncritical procurements, brand names or samples frequently best describe requirements. The use of a brand name as a purchase description is appropriate to:
- Obtain the desired level of quality or skill when these are not described easily,
- Gain the benefits of wide advertising of the brand-name item that would aid in promotion of the purchaser’s end product,
- Accommodate users who have a bias or prejudice (whether founded or unfounded) in favor of the brand. Such prejudices can be virtually impossible to overcome.
When brand names or samples are inappropriate for describing requirements, some type of specification is employed. When selecting or developing the specification, consideration must be given to the importance of competition and the desirability of avoiding unnecessarily restrictive criteria.
Once a need has been identified and functionally described, and when the size of the contemplated purchase warrants, procurement research and analysis should be conducted to investigate the availability of commercial products able to meet the company’s need. Normally, these commercial products are described by one of the standard specifications. This research and analysis also should
provide information to aid in selecting a procurement strategy appropriate to the situation. Procurement research and analysis involves obtaining the following information as appropriate:
- The availability of products suitable to meet the need (with or without modification.
- The terms, conditions, and prices under which such products are sold
- Any applicable trade provisions or restrictions or controlling laws
- The performance characteristics and quality of available products, including quality control and test procedures followed by the manufacturers
- Information on the satisfaction of other users having similar needs
- Any costs or problems associated with integrating the item with those currently used
- Industry production practices, such as continuous, periodic, or batch production
- The distribution and support capabilities of potential suppliers
If a suitable commercial product is unavailable at a reasonable price, a determination should be made on whether to use a design or a performance specification.